Coming home-El Salvador’s repatriation center has become a regional model for return migration.
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Bright orange plastic chairs sit empty in neat rows in the fluorescently lit waiting room.
In a few hours they’ll be full of returning Salvadorans, arriving via federal flight from the United States or bus from Mexico. Some will arrive in chef’s uniforms, having been taken into custody while on the job. Others will arrive in filthy clothes without shoes, showing physical scars obtained on a weeks-long journey north hiking through deserts and fording rivers.
Regardless of where they came from or how long they were gone, the Salvadoran government is receiving them here in San Salvador at the country’s only reception center for returned migrants. The facility, formally the Dirección de Atención al Migrante, is known more commonly by the neighborhood in which it is located, La Chacra.
Following the unaccompanied minor crisis in 2014 that saw tens of thousands of Central American children migrate north, the following year La Chacra was overhauled to better serve Salvadorans who are returning to their country of origin. The changes were Salvadoran-led, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the International Organization for Migration, and the facility is now a regional model for how countries should receive and process returnees.
A senior U.S. government official who was authorized to speak with Devex on background said that three years ago, La Chacra was not ready to receive people being repatriated. Now the facility has better infrastructure, operates with streamlined business processes, and Salvadoran institutions charged with legal responsibility for returnees have improved communication.